In an era when our nursing homes and long-term care facilities are already packed to the brim, one risk we must unfortunately consider when we have a loved one in such a facility is the risk of nursing home abuse or neglect. When facilities are understaffed and employees are overworked, abuse and neglect are very real risks—and do happen in West Virginia facilities as well as nationwide.
One of the ways the U.S. government has helped combat instances of abuse and neglect in nursing homes is by putting heavy violations and fines in place that facilities are forced to pay if they fail to pass regular, randomized health and safety inspections. These measures help ensure our loved ones are safe even when we can’t be there for them. Serious consequences like heavy fines make sure facilities do what needs to be done to prioritize resident safety.
And they work. According to The New York Times, almost 6,500 nursing homes were cited for at least one serious health and safety violation since 2013. The most common violations include failing to protect nursing home residents from mistreatment, abuse, neglect, avoidable accidents, and injuries like bedsores which are linked directly to neglect in most cases.
Medicare acted by fining two-thirds of the facilities that were cited. After the fines were paid, the facilities acted to stop further mistreatment, abuse, and neglect from occurring.
In late December 2017, it was discovered that the Trump administration had been slowly but surely scaling back the regulations that allow health and safety inspectors to issue out these fines to long-term care facilities. These guidelines are part of a greater effort to “relax” certain Medicare protocols and regulations that help protect individuals and families from corporations and industry giants.
The new guidelines were requested by the American Health Care Association, the main organization that acts and speaks on behalf of the nursing home industry. The group argued that health and safety inspectors were too focused on finding wrongdoings at long-term care facilities and less concerned about helping the nursing homes.
The heavy fines are a crucial part of ensuring those wrongdoings don’t occur in the first place, however. When we place a loved one in a nursing home, we trust they will be kept safe and healthy. Facilities need a zero-tolerance policy regarding abuse and neglect. There is no level of mistreatment or neglect that should be considered “satisfactory”. There is no middle ground. Safety must always be prioritized.
According to The Times, the new relaxed Medicare guidelines discourage inspectors and safety regulators from issuing fines for a wide range of situations and circumstances—including situations where a resident’s death occurs. Additionally, the new guidelines lower the fines that are issued for breaking regulations.
It’s a simple fact that our elderly loved ones deserve better care—not worse. Strict health and safety regulations with appropriate fines hold facilities accountable for the actions they take or neglect to take to protect residents. Without this high level of accountability, it’s only a matter of time before facilities find ways to cut corners which may place residents at risk.
One other way we help hold nursing homes and healthcare corporations accountable for mistreating patients, residents, and families is through the civil justice system. When we file a civil lawsuit against a facility or corporation that allowed nursing home abuse or neglect to occur to the point where injury or death resulted, we help protect current and future residents by holding the facility accountable.
Corporate accountability matters. The Trump administration’s new Medicare guidelines are attempting to diminish that fact.